The relationship between Speech, Language and Communication Needs and Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties

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Relationship between language and behaviour

The relationship between Speech, Language and Communication Needs and Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties

Studies that have measured speech and language development in children with behaviour difficulties have identified that over half will have some form of delay or disorder. Studies which included more social aspects of language in their research found that the incidence rate rose to include nearly all children. Similarly, studies of adults in the criminal justice system report that the majority have Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN).

In trying to understand what leads to the behaviour difficulties in a particular child (or indeed an adult) there will be a large number of determining factors of which the speech, language or communication needs are only one part. However, our ability to understand language and communicate is crucial to our ability to function in our social world and follow its rules. It is also essential in internalising our feelings and processing our thoughts about our own self identity. Therefore, speech, language and communication difficulties, though these difficulties themselves may be the result of other causative factors in the child's life, will nevertheless account for many of challenging behaviours that are seen.

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Behaviour & Possible SLCN Cause

The following list details some of the behaviours observed in children in school settings and suggests the possible speech, language and communication difficulties which may at least partly account for what is seen.

Frequently complains of being bullied

Social communication difficulties - may not understand social rules, have poor pragmatic language and/or struggles to open conversations and build friendships.

Challenging and non-compliant behaviour over class work

May not be able to understand or remember what to do. May have difficulties processing information; poor receptive vocabulary; weak working memory and/or expressive difficulties such as finding words, formulating sentences etc.

Constantly calling out during teacher input and discussion

Poor short-term memory means that the student is driven to call out before they forget. Handicapped by weak working memory capacity these students also often lack memory rehearsal strategies.

Often lashes out at peers

Social communication difficulties such as turn taking, understanding social rules or pragmatic language.

Often gets into fights with peers

Communication difficulties - may not understand or misinterpret what peers say or may become frustrated as unable to express what they want to say. Also the child may lack the language skills to rationalise feelings and self-regulate emotions.

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Supporting these students

These students often require direct and explicit teaching of social rules delivered through a sustained intervention programme using visuals, contextual examples and social stories. Delivering support programmes on developing the social use of language can be highly effective in reducing the frequency of behavioural incidents. To be effective they need to be sustained over many months (or years), giving importance and status in the curriculum and timetable and delivered by experienced empathetic staff with appropriate understanding of language development.

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You may also find the following pages useful:

Introduction to Language Development

Social Interaction and Play Milestones

Vocabulary Teaching

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